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Flames looking for 'foundation' after Game 2 loss: 'We're playing into their hands'

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Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith, left, lets in a goal as Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm looks on during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Friday, May 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Tyler Toffoli doesn't recognize this version of his team.

And if the Flames don't get back to what's made them successful all season, Calgary could be in big trouble against its high-flying provincial rival.

Toffoli scored in the second period to give the home side a 3-1 lead Friday, but the Edmonton Oilers stormed back with four unanswered goals to secure a 5-3 victory that evened the teams' second-round playoff series 1-1.

"Since I've been here we've done a really good job of playing our type of hockey," said Toffoli, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in February. "The past two games here we haven't really been playing to our foundation.

"It's been getting away from us."

The Flames — normally creatures of a well-defined structure — weren't thrilled with their performance in a wild 9-6 victory in Game 1 of the first post-season Battle of Alberta in 31 years.

Calgary was even less enthused after Connor McDavid and Co. scored consecutive goals on the power play, at four-on-four and shorthanded to grab hold of proceedings and send the best-of-seven matchup to Edmonton even ahead of Sunday's Game 3.

"They're a high-scoring team," Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said. "The individual skill sets for them can win hockey games.

"That was the difference tonight."

The feeling from the Flames in the wake of Friday's loss was they're fine as long as the action remains at five-on-five.

But when the likes of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who combined for two goals and three assists, get a chance to start wheeling around the offensive zone with more space is when Calgary gets into trouble.

"We're playing into their hands," Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin said. "When you're playing those four-on-fours and you're short a lot, it's tough when their top guys can touch the puck and feel it a bit.

"We've got to clean that up."

Toffoli lamented his team's lack of discipline in a game that was there for the taking — especially early.

"We took too many penalties," the winger said after the Oilers connected on one of their six power plays. "We've got away from our type of game and started playing their game. When that happens they have guys that can do some of the things that they did.

"We didn't do a good job."

So why has Calgary strayed from a style that got the club to the top of the Pacific Division at the season's most critical juncture?

"I'm not really sure," Toffoli said. "It's something that we have to talk about within ourselves. At the end of the day, I've said last series as well, nobody's going to do it — it's only us.

"We have to find a way to get back to it and play five-on-five hockey and take over games."

Calgary jumped out to a 2-0 lead just over six minutes into Friday's contest after pushing ahead 3-0 in Game 2, but allowed Edmonton to find its footing.

"The main thing for us is just trying to keep it five-on-five," Hanifin said. "We're having good starts. We like our game at five-on-five.

"It's just when we start getting into those situations where it's four-on-four and stuff, it's not to our advantage, not our game, and they have success."

Toffoli, who won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, said the Flames simply need to get back to their old, trusted habits as the series now shifts to the Alberta capital.

"It's playoff hockey, it's not going to be perfect every single night," he said. "Things happen within a game and we have to stay composed.

"If we stay five-on-five we're in a good spot."

So far in this series, however, that's been easier said than done.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022. 

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press